Honing the Olympic edge
Canada’s success the end of a long journey, writes Rob Longley.
For the most part, the members of Canada’s women’s hockey team have managed to keep the eye rolls to themselves.
The predictable questions keep coming — and with Thursday’s game against the U.S. now upon us, right on cue. What is it about an Olympic year that swings the puck pendulum in Canada’s favour? Why is it such a great rivalry? Why are the Americans favoured?
Given the format of the Olympic tournament, it’s a near lock that the two teams will meet for gold yet again next week. And given the U.S. has captured the title the past three world championships, the Canadians are underdogs here.
But thanks to a centralization program that maximizes the skill and talents of the best group of players in the world, little of what happened the past three years matters.
The Americans-as-favourites narrative must also bring a smile to the Canadians who have won their two games so far by a combined score of 9-1. Of course, they have won the past four Olympic gold medals and also ended 2017 exhibition play with a four-game winning streak over their arch rivals.
Their Olympic formula, however, provides a proven edge.
“The Americans are a great country for hockey, but we are, too,” Canadian forward Meghan Agosta said. “And ever since August, we have improved considerably. Our coaching staff has done a great job getting us up to the level.”
Credit coach Laura Schuler with a share of that. There seems to be a complete buy-in from her players and the defensive and offensive schemes she’s rolled out have been efficient in wins over the Olympic Athletes from Russia and Finland.
But it’s more than coaching. Institutionally, the Canadians are better equipped every Olympic year to kick some butt.
It all begins with Hockey Canada’s centralization program based in Calgary. The team and support staff checked in to the facility Aug. 1 and other than a Christmas break have been together ever since.
The 28 initial invitees were eventually trimmed to 23 in late December. Throughout the camp, systems were integrated, evaluations were made and the marriage of what ultimately turned out to be nine rookies and 14 veterans had a chance to solidify.
“No. 1 (with) centralization is the opportunity to coach a team full team,” Schuler said. “These girls are getting all the support services they have in place to be the best they can be. Full-time training. Full-time trainers to make sure they ’re healthy. They ’re staying on the ice. From a coaching perspective, we’re able to sit down and do one-on-one video. There’s just so much more time to teach.”
The process actually began in late May when the players reported to a two-week “boot camp” in Fredericton, N.B. Then after shifting to Calgary, it’s been all business.